following statement / discussion-enabler, was written for a
Symposium, "Dissenting Practices" (February 20-22,
2003) at Georgetown University.
following is an excerpt from the general invitation)
the impulses animating the making of poetry, one assumption
that holds good is that the poem has some describable relation-of
critique, indifference, support, reflection, determination-to
the society in which the writer lives
.so then, in the
spirit of Brecht, this symposium will seek to prompt opinion
& reflection from poets on the sociality of art
America broadly as the site of imperium and fluctuation-fissures-in
the meaning of "our": poetry in our America."
an excerpt of the prompt from the "Border Zones in These
are borders within the United States-between languages, races,
neighborhoods, categories in the census
a culture unsettled,
by flows in and out of bordered
spaces-people with their memories and speech-that fit in, that
do not fit in. The complex situation of border zones-how to
talk about poetry from such spaces, or poetry as such spaces
thanks to Mark McMorris, symposium organizer)
A Border Round in Six Parts
1. Two attempts at crossing the "extra-literary"
and "intra-literary" social divide (both ways, without
the customary bribery posing as mutual-aid).
working-poet side of me, that is, the side that'll have to inevitably
return to specifying a constitutive social perspective, one
that is evidenced through numerous lexical, syntactical and
structural values in the poem-that side, will have to make a
multitude of discriminations that lead to concrete choices-that
side: would like to speak
line (or sentence) of poetry having more than one word in it,
presents a "border" problematic. The crossing, for
example, from the "I" (subject) to a specific (socially-accented)
verb, is at once a mutual ideological co-determination, as it
is a perilous and unpredictable grazing up against, or perhaps
it is an inspection-one of the other. And then,
the on-towards the (quote) "resolving" object (direct
social, or indirect social)-further complicates matters.
persistent question: what lies on either side-of a (singular)
word. And perhaps, exaggerated-sounding to some, I often ask,
what "borders" reside within a single word.
And even deeper on that path, my working-poet compeers spurn
me on to more acute observations-for example, Myung Mi Kim (who
is here present among us) who's often asked, what might resonate
inside a single syllable
across oceans, decades,
in that she's figured the very syllable
of a word as being a significant, as well as signifying border
this is the working-poet side of me, needing to pose it like
this: this on-towards the object (direct social, or indirect)
of this grammatical sentence (of power, or deliverance from
power) <quote> 'resolved' <quote> 'suspended'<quote>
And conversely, or rather, in addition to the working-poet side
of me, is the social-actor, which seems to want to say, "No-nuh
that's too limiting, politically, to talk
about textual crossings and the like. My having reservations
about these alleged initiations, and summoning into beings of,
The Audience, as through determinative selections made in the
composition of a text. Hasn't The Audience, instead, come of
its own accord (through the winding paths of history)
and why would it need to be brought into "play" or
"methodologically-textually jiggled into being"
dynamization of the audience-unit (me)-has already happened
yet, admittedly [the social-actor continuing] I have my own
borders to contend with, as evidenced by the continuous non-ending
discussion of the very existence of this "social side."
For example: most left critical journals, like the New Left
Review, The Monthly Review, and the like, will not submit easily
(if at all) to talking about poetry's inner workings, even if
those poetries claim to be revealing of manifest "outer
social" dynamics. And, it's true, as you say, working-poet
(that is, I concur) that most poetry journals around the country
would not (and do not) put up with the ideological analytical
mode such as I prefer to work in.
Social Actor, continues
the cumulative lexicon of someone's poetry-or even the
cumulative lexicon of an entire scene's poetry register, more
or less, its target audiences? Similarly, might not a socio-linguistic
survey of poetry audiences reveal what particular coding is
being drafted upon what population's foreheads. We used
to say, in the County Mental Health Department in San Francisco
population, that other population
a new population
is bleeding onto that other population"
audiences?" exclaims the working-poet. "Look,
at the very moment you release your volitional bows, the hundred
arrows (signs) that you let fly immediately stick in three
hundred unforeseen targets. I mean the texture or lived-stratification
of modern social life-well, it's smarts in'it? That is, it doesn't
easily allow so linear a concept as "target audience"
to live, in such a purified state. Aren't you more likely to
be describing the contours or charged boundaries between one
crowd and the other; as you yourself said, "a population
onto another one"
okay," then says The Social-Actor. "But let's not
get too excited by these pomographies
a distillation at the end of the day
an indecorous cattle-call
by that ranch-hand turned rancher
Life at the
big "H": History-Marx, 'All history is class-history.'
And our poetries funnel into that crucible"
which the two border-crossers, for the moment, agree to continue
working out their contradictions later; and what's more, through
the paradoxical practice of poetry.
and Bastards interchangeably" (Zukovsky)
2. The poet's events director speaks.
there such a thing as an extra-literary audience (in
this society)? Some might say, "Yes, my parents are such
an audience, my neighbors, my co-workers, my (as yet, unlearned)
wouldn't "extra-literary" in this society mean that
the population in question, for example, hasn't watched TV-at
all (been formed by it) and the same with movies. On most
TV sets these days, you can even enable the settings to see
Spahr (who is present with us here also) seems to have taken
this perspective to heart (or gut) in her book, Response. In
that book, she treated talk shows, their literary strategies,
as if they were "for real" (live) literary
methodologies. And so, I'm still asking, what extra-literary
audience that we're sometimes accused of ignoring, speaking
down to, can we really point to in this society (literacy problems
yet, at the same time, can we, as literaryists count on such
as thing as an intra-literary audience? Paradoxically,
I'd answer no. People move in the world of social relations,
and spaces-in regions that are both pre- and post-linguistically
patrolled; that is, the body, perhaps might still be the ultimate
border detection device. (Who is more likely (racially) to be
the target of surveillance at a Mall, who is judged on body
shape or size for a job, for example.)
what we can count on is a Border Problematic when it
comes to language
and maybe that's a premise by
which we can begin this tour.
as border enforcer, Audience as border crosser, Writer as border
enforcer, Writer as Border crosser
Notes Toward A Dissenting Practical Poetics.
present in this room, would disagree that we are in the midst
of (and need to respond to) a deep social crisis stemming not
only from a lack of relevant (democratically arrived at) information,
but also a crises as to how to act on that world-at-large-culturally,
that is, even when we are privy to vital evidence of
the social through alternate sources.
crisis, in large part, stemming from corporate domination of
all facets of life, a hegemony tending towards a generalized
undemocratic treatment of most issues, but especially ones that
press hard on life-structures (work, housing, medicine,
hegemony that's actively colluding with Capital's violence-military
wars, poverty-engineering wars, and (so intense this) the war
against the social emancipatory imagination.
yet, a survey of Poetry (journals, books, internet postings,
reading events) might demonstrate that Poetry (as an aggregate)
is already ranging widely over all sorts of meaning-making constructs
that, in multifarious ways, are mediating life-structures (however
minoritarian poetry may be as a cultural practice).
people might ask, why (while at the ranch) circumscribe already-active
heterogeneous poetic movements with an over-arching social perspective?
preliminary answer might be that, when regarding counter-hegemonic
practices, an over-arching perspective is already afoot.
And so, what is it? Where is it coming from? What does it intend
4. Minoritarian practices: The way "I"
the long sweep-brings into being Uneven Development.
Ergo: this Uneven Cultural Terrain that we're acting
in as well as on. Ergo: the need for Combined
unevenly constructed subject might ask, "What does 'combined'
first off, not to a Manichean tussle "Global
vs. Local," "Race vs. Class," "Gender vs.
Race," "Academic vs. Non-Academic," "('Vulgar')
Formalism vs. ('Vulgar') Realism" but instead, "combined
(struggle)" understood as a sustained counter-hegemonic
perspective that allows for the engagement of different
levels of negative receptivity, the healthy number and degree
of negativities that any audience brings with it
with his or her chest full of this-vs.-that's.
perspective requires an active engagement of historical unevenness,
an intention to mediate it and translate between, so as to have
a larger (historical) sweep become palpable-more enticing-even
sensual, as regards the conjured-up life-structures and the
cultural practices that surround them.
to such a practice is the awareness that one is already
adapting to, and challenging, and transforming, various aspects
of inter-related (resistive) poetries. The task is then how
to avoid enforcing Uneven Development by exacerbating its Uneven
Cultural Terrain, treating it as "natural" or "unavoidable."
The question is how to work consciously from it-as through
it-and yet not "beyond" it, but at the same time,
decidedly aiming for that.
5. Interactive Social Emancipatory Imaginations
At Work (Border Busters, The Sequel)
want, or need-which?
a check and catalyst to The Resistive Movements-their
inanities, bluster, triumphs, defeatism, vision, myopia
or need, to tease out the contradictions in a fluid and dynamic
"poetic" phenomenon is to be consciously attended
to, and understood as a concrete productive problematic:
"where-now," "how-now" (given what we've
just heard, say, at a reading). Being inter-dramatic
about it, whether it is expressed as mellifluously-lyrical,
reads a poem-listens to someone read a set of em-and doesn't
know it necessarily re-positions them in a complex or
even simple way
is a walking-breathing-living historic
mis-stake. Though even these mis-stakes-oodles
of em'-if apprehended as such might still garner a tentative
sense of futurity.
In short, we, as self-conscious practitioners, openly talk about
how to craft a practice-on-the-spot, alongside social
movements in the process of being crafted (on the spot). Spot,
immediate concern is what to amplify, synthesize, pair away,
graft, truncate, etc
if there is an imbedded "credo"-at all, to that buzz
word, "combined"-it is this: what might or can
be the initial (or initializing) disposition towards an audience?
Understood as this time around ("this reading right
here"), or next time around ("gotta
gotta re-set this interfacing").
6. What we brink-to-mean
we brinking it best through poetry?